Here's how we do a first day in Burma (Myanmar.)
Get off the plane after 28 hours plus of travel, stumble out into the unsecured area of the Yango airport, where hundreds of people are waiting and looking. Immediately I'm approached by a taxi service man, who then whisks me off to the "Hotel 7 Mile."
Wash and rest briefly, then arrange a taxi with the hotel. Comical, as English is limited, but I do have a map, and they know how to pronounce the names of places. After a round about discussion, we finally have it straight, and I head off with my young non-English speaking escort.
Note the crazy driving. Crazy just because the steering wheels are on the right side of the cars, and they're driving on the right side of the road. They squeeze into the tiniest of nooks and crannies, and edge their way amidst frantic traffic as they try to make left hand turns. Outside mirrors are all askew.
We quickly drive by Aung Sun Suu Kyi's residence on University Avenue. She is the remarkable woman who has been the primary spokesperson for political reform in this country. The monk's uprising
of 2007 saw hundreds of monks marching to outside her gates, as she prayed with them from within because she was still under house arrest then. I briefly think about the political and social history that has happened right at that very spot.
Then on to Ngahtatgyi Paya, the home of a big sitting Buddha with porcelain complexion and shocking pink fingernails and lips. Did I say big? This Buddha is huge, and he sits beneath an immense protective roof, smiling at the people who sit before him and pray. I sit with them for awhile. A Burmese kitty lazily prays with me. Elsewhere, .lLife size dioramas depict the life of Buddha. Everywhere gold, and carved wood. A detailed carved teak(?) screen frames Buddha, echoing his outlandish size.
Big Buddhas are everywhere--the next is Chaukhtatgyi Paya, another really big reclining Buddha, same shiny white skin and pink lips. He's got detailed markings on the soles of his feet and toes. People gather to pray, eat, socialize, and take pictures of each other in front of Buddha. A mother takes a photo of her toddler who's turned into spiderman. A small round structure includes images of Buddha and different
Life size diorama: monks emerging from a mural.
animals: tiger, rat, guinea pig creature, elephant. People dip water from small buckets of water and cleanse the Buddhas and their animals.
The most astonishing is Shwedagon Pagoda, breathtaking in its immensity and blinding with gold. Pagodas, a giant stupa, Buddhas in the thousands, perhaps, tucked into every niche and open space. Thousands of people circling around, walking the shiny ground barefoot, taking photos, praying. Now and then a diminutive devotee, helped by his mother, uses a large mallet to strike a gong.
The cleaning brigade comes through, women elegantly swishing along in their colorful long longyis and moving fan shaped brooms, collectively gathering the dust brought in by peoples' feet. I look up, and there are several monks climbing like mountain goats on the big stupa. The sun is setting, casting a soft golden light on everything, and cameras and cell phone cameras are popping all over. I rest on a step, and a young monk strikes up a conversation. His English is labored, but he tries so hard to talk with me. Eventually he's looking at my Lonely Planet guide to Myanmar. Foreigners, I suppose who are a bit startled by the sight, snap photos as
they walk by the young monk reading about his country in the guide book. He teaches me some Burmese words, and a woman nearby smiles broadly as I say "bye bye" in Burmese. The monk asks me my age--I'm 59, I say, and he is 24, the same age as my older son. You can be my mother, he says. I feel honored to have two sons the same age.
Will you follow me around? he asks. Of course. I accompany my young friend with the shaved head in orange robes. Have you seen the bear? he says. No, how could I have missed it? He shows me a huge metal bell, very old, with Pali inscriptions all over it. So that's the bear that I missed.
Gilded towering umbrella shapes, bells on high, flashing neon lights behind Buddha heads, a room full of Buddha startles me as they surround me. As the sun sets people sit and pray at the fading shininess as a man nearby polishes the stone walking surface with an electric rotary machine.
I feel good, and peaceful. Then I limp for the elevator (yes, elevators--limping because of a recent problem I developed
in my foot).
Finally leave that remarkable place, find a taxi driver who assures me he knows the way to theThai Kitchen. Of course he didn't, and drives all over, then demands more money from me because he used more gas than expected. After eating, I find a massage place, where a sweet young woman with lovely smile and a fresh flower in her hair gave me a wonderful reflexology treatment on my feet. Just what I needed.
I stumble back to my room, wondering what the next day will bring. This place feels so comfortable.
Will be meeting my tour group soon, but I'm glad I had the first day to myself.
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